Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl; directed by Bill Condon; 2 hours, 4 minutes; rated R for strong language, some violence, Grade: B

"The Fifth Estate," director Bill Condon's involving look at the life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, is something of a throwback thriller. It doesn't rely on the clockwork predictability of chases and explosions that marks the genre these days. Instead, it unfurls as a quietly compelling political drama reminiscent of '70s classics like "The Conversation" and "The Parallax View."

But "The Fifth Estate" is also as current as a news feed, filling in the disputed facts about Assange's life and chronicling the revolution that has upended the media landscape in the last decade. (Assange himself has come out against the film, calling it "a massive propaganda attack.")

The result is one of the year's most engrossing movies, a work not only of filmmaking skill but one that manages to walk the razor's edge between celebrating what Assange says he's about (the free flow of information) and painting him as a complex and troubled man, one riddled with paranoia, arrogance and deep family issues.

The interplay between Assange (a convincing Benedict Cumberbatch) and follower Daniel Dornscheit-Berg - beginning with admiration and ending in hostility - is fascinating. The film, written by Josh Singer, is partly based on Dornscheit-Berg's book, "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website."

The mainstream media, specifically England's The Guardian, is portrayed as showing nothing but contempt for Assange and his work.

Condon handles what is essentially a war of wills and words with a keen visual eye, making even a moment such as WikiLeaks being hacked and disabled into something cinematic.

All in all, it makes for a gripping account of recent history.

cary darling, forth worth star-telegram